Avoid Colds and Flus This Winter - And Keep Your Money In Your HSA
February 23, 2010
Vol. 6, Issue 2
When you have an HSA, you have much lower health insurance premiums, but you end up paying for doctor visits from your health savings account. If your family can avoid the common illnesses like colds and flus, that money will continue to grow tax-deferred in your IRA, and in 20 years it could add up to a lot of money.
Be Proactive to Avoid Getting Sick
Few people understand the powerful effect that diet has on how well your immune system functions. We all are exposed to cold and flu germs dozens or hundreds of time every year. Some people come down with crushing symptoms every winter, while others go years without getting a cold. A few years ago I went back to school and got my master's degree in nutrition and exercise science, and since making some changes in our lifestyle it is rare for anyone in our family to get sick. Even my seven year-old son Wiley IV, surrounded by classmates with runny noses, has not gotten sick this year.
Here are some important strategies that can help:
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
People tend to eat less fruits and vegetables in the winter. But numerous studies show the benefits of plant consumption, and in particular that phytochemicals that give fruits and vegetables their colors and flavor. Studies have shown fruit and vegetable consumption to increase circulating gammadelta T cells, which are white blood cells that play a roll in immunity. See if you can increase your salad consumption, and include berries (frozen work well) in your diet this winter.
Wash Your Hands
Transmission of contagious viruses most often occurs via the mouth and nose, and can be greatly reduced simply by making sure you (and your kids!) wash your hands more often. While I'm not a big fan of anti-viral hand sanitizers, they could certainly help in situations where you cannot wash your hands as frequently as you like.
Get Enough Sleep
As a busy business owner, this is one area where I could do much better. But the scientific data is in, and its clear that getting enough sleep makes a big difference. In fact, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine last year found that 7 or more hours of sleep reduced the risk of contracting a cold by up to 300 percent.
Get Some Exercise
There is strong evidence that people who exercise don't get sick as often. One way this works is that exercise dampens stress hormones. And stress hormones suppress immune response. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that regular physical activity lowers overall risk of upper-respiratory infection.
Get Plenty of Sunshine - or Vitamin D
A study published in Epidemiology and Infection found that people who took 2000 IU/day of vitamin D had 70 percent fewer colds during a three-year period.
Vitamin D is not naturally found in many foods. Instead, our bodies produce it when sunlight hits cholesterol in our skin. One of the main reasons that cold and flu season is in the winter is because of the impaired immune response people have as a result of lower vitamin D levels this time of year. Unless you live at low latitude and are out in the sun daily, you almost certainly need to supplement with vitamin D.
Take a Quality Fish Oil Supplement
If you've been reading this newsletter for long, you've heard me give this recommendation before. Everyone who does not regularly eat cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, or herring should be taking a quality fish oil supplement.
Consumption of this essential fatty acid reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and numerous other health problems - and also improves functioning of your immune system. A study by Britain's Institute of Human Nutrition and School of Medicine showed that taking fish oil supplements will increase activity of phagocytes, which are cells that eat up bacteria
Take a Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics are good gut bacteria, and they have a powerful effect on immune response. They can be obtained in some yogurts, though I recommend finding a supplement made without dairy. Usually you'll want to refrigerate the bottle, in order to extend the viability of these live organisms.
A study last year in Pediatrics found that probiotics reduced the incidence of coughing and running nose by about 60 percent, and that it cut the duration of the colds in half. This is another supplement that I recommend everyone take regularly.
Additional Supplements to Consider
Garlic - A study published in Advances in Therapy found that people who took garlic were 2/3 less likely to catch a cold, and that when they did they stayed sick for 3.5 less days.
Black tea - Growing research is showing that the compounds in tea can increase T cell production of interferon. This is a protein that can battle cold and flu infections. You may want to try to get in the habit of drinking tea daily, particularly during the winter months
Zinc - this mineral is particularly important for optimum immune function. The best food source of zinc is meat, such as beef. Because whole grains contain phytates that bind zinc, many people need supplements to reach optimum levels. If you do not already supplement, take 30 mg/day when you feel a cold coming on.
Stay Well - It's Your Responsibility
Tylenol Cold and Flu will do nothing to reduce your risk of getting sick, nor will it help you get well any more quickly. But as you can see, you can dramatically reduce your risk of getting sick, and even get well much more quickly, by incorporating some positive lifestyle changes. It is my belief that the more we all take personal responsibility - for our health, for our finances - the better off we'll all be.
So stay well, so your HSA funds can continue to grow tax-deferred.
P.S. - Next month we'll discuss what to do if you receive a rate increase from your insurance company.